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The Perils Of Geekdom

August 29th, 2005

It’s not unusual to find examples of mainstream comedy poking fun at geek culture. We’re easy targets, what with our obsessions about Things Which Society Deems Unimportant, as opposed to American Idol, the Super Bowl and the Anniston/Pitt/Jolie triangle. Plus, there’s the bad rap about our poor grooming habits, which I have to admit isn’t entirely undeserved.

These days, it’s also not unusual to find geek-mockery itself written by geeks. Geeks have infiltrated the writing staffs of The Onion and The Daily Show. How I can tell? Because they usually get the references right.

As a card-carrying geek–yes, they issue cards–I do enjoy realizing that the person behind the joke is one of us. I got a kick out of the Daily Show bit in which a proposed attack on a terrorist bunker was illustrated with graphics from the Death Star mission briefing: “You’re required to maneuver straight down this trench, and skim the surface to this point…”

This weekend, Saturday Night Live repeated its Paris Hilton episode, which included a skit about a phone sex line for geeks. The women waiting to take our calls included a Dungeon Master, Princess Leia, Lt. Uhura and a Tolkienesque Elf-babe. The faux commercial ended with Hilton donning Doctor Who’s hat and scarf, and cooing “Are you a Dalek? Do you want to exterminate me?” I never thought I’d see that on network TV.

And yet, even though there was more than the usual attention to detail in the dialogue, including a namecheck for Barad-Dur, I found myself at one point talking back to my TV: “You don’t roll a saving throw with a 12-sided die!” You see, that’s a peril of being a geek: being so close to the joke that one winds up nitpicking it, and therefore validating the very obsessiveness being spoofed.

A similar thing happened a couple of weekends ago, when I saw Steve Carell’s movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin. (Which, by the way, I highly recommend as both a sweet romance and a fucking funny, old-school, R-rated comedy.) Carell’s character is an action figure collector, and the filmmakers cleverly draw a parallel between his virginity and his need to keep his toys “mint in the box.”

However, a major plot point is the alleged value of his collection, and there were times when I found myself paying entirely too much attention to the toys dressing the set. I thought to myself, “Those ToyBiz Marvel superhero figures aren’t worth anything in or out of the package!” and “Sure, Oscar Goldman is a legitimate collectible, but surely he’d be worth a lot more if he had his exploding briefcase!”

And that’s the peril of making fun of geeks: we’re so much better at lampooning ourselves.

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